First Steps 2-07

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A couple of hours after what had ended up being my first actual fight, I was sitting in a small room in front of a simple wooden table. I had been escorted here by a stone-faced Wyatt Rendell (the overzealous security guard) after taking a shower to clean off the bug-poodle gunk. He told me not to leave the room, but wait for the investigating Runners to come chat with me about what had happened.

I was alive. I had survived that swarm of… of monsters. In spite of everything that had happened, I didn’t feel tired at all. In fact, I kind of wanted to go out and run some laps. My legs wouldn’t stop bouncing up and down, and my hands kept shaking. I needed to get up. I needed to move around.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening, followed by a slight exhale of breath that sounded almost surprised. “Oh, you… you’re really…”

Looking up from a close examination of my hands, I regarded the man who was talking. He was very tall and almost dangerously thin, an ill-fitting green suit loosely draped over his nearly skeletal figure. His eyes were covered by emerald-tinted sunglasses, and his rust colored hair was cut short. He was staring at me as though I was something fascinating to see. “Umm, am I in the right room?”

Seeming to recover from his initial reaction, the man gave a quick nod. “Yes, my apologies. It’s just that–” he trailed off, then seemed to shake himself. “It’s nothing. My mind is just elsewhere, I’m afraid. Memories that are best forgotten.” Taking in a long breath, he let it out before giving me a nod. “Now then, good afternoon, Felicity. I trust you’re feeling a little bit better now that you’ve cleaned up?”

“It’s Flick,” I informed the man automatically. “I don’t… really go by Felicity anymore.” Even as I spoke, I couldn’t stop picturing his expression as he’d stood in that doorway before getting himself under control. That hadn’t been the look of someone who was thinking about something else. It had been the look of someone who was reminded of something traumatic and painful because of what they were looking at. Or who they were looking at, in this case. But why? What did he mean by ‘memories that were best forgotten’? And why would just looking at me make one of the Heretic super-detectives falter and stare like that? I was positive I’d never met the man, unless there were some memory shenanigans involved. Which, to be fair, I probably shouldn’t rule out completely.

Was it possible? Did I have prior interaction with the Heretics that had been erased from my mind? It wasn’t exactly impossible to believe, considering everything else that they were capable of. The look of instant familiarity on this guy’s face when he had seen me was just too blatant to completely ignore.

“Flick then,” he nodded in agreement, interrupting my thoughts. “My name is Runner Tribald Kine. Do you mind if I sit?” He indicated the chair across the table from me while arching one thin eyebrow.

I shrugged. “Sure, I mean, it’s not my chair. I’m not even sure where in the school I am.” Frowning slightly at a sudden thought of portals, I added, “I am still in the school, right?” The maze of corridors that Wyatt had practically dragged me through had been pretty confusing and disorienting even before magic was added into the equation. I really couldn’t rule out the idea that I had been taken elsewhere.

Tribald tugged the chair out and settled himself into it while nodding. “Yes, you are definitely still in school. No need to worry. Not even the bravest Runner would risk taking one of the Baroness’s students off school grounds without her express permission.” He seemed to shudder at the very thought.

“Is Avalon okay?” I asked, watching the man’s reaction. “Those things were after her, you know. You read the message that whoever did it left on the wall? What if they come after her again?”

The man’s thin, hawkish face softened slightly as he nodded. “Don’t you worry, Avalon is in good hands. She might not fully enjoy the experience, but she is perfectly safe, I promise.”

In spite of his assurance, I frowned. “What do you mean she might not enjoy the experience?”

In answer, the man let out a long, low sigh, taking a moment to examine the cuff of his ugly lime colored suit jacket before responding. “Felic—Flick, how much do you know about your roommate?”

I froze briefly at the question, biting my lip as I considered my answer. Finally, I spoke carefully. “Probably more than she wants me to, but not enough to start making a bunch of judgments about it.”

Tribald smiled a little thinly. “Good answer. It’s not really my place to get into specifics. However, there are reasons that one might think that Avalon knows more than she’s telling about this situation. My partner is discussing this possibility with her, and I am fairly certain that it’s not going well.”

My eyes widened, and I blurted, “What? You guys are going after her for this? But she was the–”

The man raised both hands placatingly. “Easy, easy. No. We don’t think she’s responsible for what happened. We do think that she might know more than she’s telling us about who is responsible for it. Call it a… misplaced desire to take care of the situation herself. We think she has an enemy that is targeting her, and that she thinks it’s something she has to deal with personally. My partner is trying to convince her to tell us everything she actually knows so that we can settle this situation.”

Breathing out, I shook my head. “She’s not going to react well to anything you say to her.” I’d only known her for a couple days and even I realized that much. “Your partner is wasting his time.”

“Her time,” the man corrected. “And I wouldn’t be that surprised. Still, we do have procedures to follow.” For a moment, he just looked at me as though considering something. When he finally spoke, his tone was curious. “Would you consider Avalon a friend at this point, someone you can trust?”

I paused, shifting in my seat while I considered his question. “That’s two different questions, sir. Would I consider her a friend? She’s not exactly friendly. I don’t think she has any interest in making any ‘friends’ as far as that goes. And the other question, do I trust her? She saved my life in there. I’m here now because of her, because she helped me and kept me calm. So are we friends? I hope we can be someday, but we’re not really friends the way you’d define it. Not yet. But yes, I do trust her.”

For a few long seconds, Tribald said nothing. He simply watched me, seeming to memorize my expression before giving a final nod. “Understood. Now, why don’t you walk me through exactly what happened, from the moment you walked into the room. Step by step, no detail is too small. You’ve wanted to be a reporter, right? Pretend I’m paying you by the word, and bury me in minutiae.”

Blinking at that, I straightened in the seat while asking, “How did you know I wanted to be a reporter?”

The man simply smiled faintly at me. “You’ll find that the Bow Street Runners do our homework, Flick. We rarely walk into an interview without finding out everything we can about the person involved. But in this case, it wasn’t hard to find. It was one the primary notes in your school record.”

Perfect. My minor attempt at fishing had yielded results. I hadn’t been absolutely sure that this guy had seen my personal school file, but now that I knew he had, I might be able to use it.

Sure, part of me felt bad about manipulating the guy into revealing that much. But hey, these guys had apparently spent years vetting me and digging into my personal life before eventually making the decision to let me into the school. It was only fair that I get to do a little digging of my own into my situation to find out why it had taken a tie breaking vote from the Headmistress to actually admit me.

To that end, I looked up at the man. “Can I ask you a question then, Mister… err… detective… uh?”

Chuckling, he supplied, “Runner. Runner Kine, or just Tribald is good. And what sort of question?”

“You saw my file.” Shifting in my seat, I watched his reaction while asking, “Was there anything in it that might explain why half the people who make the decisions didn’t want to let me into the school, or why the headmistress had to break that particular tie? I know it’s not a normal thing, because I was the only one that was so late. Everyone else, even the other, uh, Silverstones like me were here earlier.”

For a few seconds, the man said nothing. He simply watched me in silence before shifting in his seat. His voice was careful. “If I decline to answer your question, are you going to decline to answer mine?”

I gaped at the very insinuation, blurting, “No! Hell no, of course not! Someone out there tried to kill me and my roommate. They’re probably connected to the death of Professor Pericles too! I don’t—I’m not—I’d never do that! I’d never obstruct your investigation. I just… I just wanted to know before we started talking about what happened. I just… I know there’s something that people aren’t telling me.”

There was something he wasn’t telling me too. That look of recognition that he’d given me combined with the knowledge that something had nearly convinced the school not to let me in made me entirely too curious to ignore. But rather than flat out ask the man about his earlier slip, I masked it with the question about my record as soon as he confirmed that he’d actually read it. Kind of manipulative to be perfectly fair, but I couldn’t just let it go. I needed to understand what was going on.

Tribald looked uncertain, a troubled expression crossing his face briefly. “I’m afraid there isn’t much that I can tell you right now, Feli—Flick. It’s not something that I’m allowed to do.” Before I could protest, he pressed on. “The one thing I can say is that you might find one of the answers that you’re looking for in the Athletic Accolades hall on the second floor of the this facility. But I wasn’t the one who directed you there.”

I wanted to ask more, but realized that pushing would be a bad idea. Instead, I bowed my head gratefully. “Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me,” the man insisted, his face even more troubled. “Like I said, I wasn’t the one who told you to look there. Got it? If it comes down to it, you were just exploring. Is that understood?”

My head bobbed up and down quickly. “Yes, sir. Just exploring.” What was it? What could be so important and dangerous for me to find on the second floor of the building that he didn’t want anyone to know that he’d sent me that way?

With effort, I shook off the thought and focused. “You want to know what happened today? We waited in line for our turn like everyone else. None of the other groups had any kind of problem. It all seemed to be going fine. Avalon and I walked in, and I was going to uhh, you know, kill one of the bugs. But then I noticed there were three of them instead of two, and the door was shut….”

******

“Avalon, wait up!”

I jogged to catch up with the figure walking down the hall ahead of me. I’d come out of the interview with Runner Kine and spotted my roommate heading out. Obviously she had just finished as well.

The sigh that escaped the other girl was audible even from a dozen feet away. She turned as I approached, watching for a second before spreading her arms wide. “Go ahead. Take your best shot.”

Blinking, I slowed down and shook my head. “What do you mean?”

Avalon kept her arms spread wide. “What do you wanna say, Chambers? Fuck me for almost getting you killed? You want a new roommate, one that isn’t gonna get you in so much trouble, or might actually be nice to you? One you can giggle and tell stories with all night long? Here’s your chance. Tell me what a fucking bitch I am and then go get yourself a new roommate. No one would blame you. No one could object to you switching rooms, not now. Not after all that. So do what you’ve gotta do.”

“I don’t want a new roommate,” I replied carefully but firmly. “I like the one I’ve got just fine. What happened back there wasn’t your fault. Someone tried to kill you. And why the hell would I want to get rid of you? You kicked ass. I would’ve been dead without you. You’re the only reason I survived that.

“I’m the only reason that situation existed to begin with,” she shot back. “And you know it.”

“Maybe if we were training to be something simple and safe, like pharmaceutical reps, that might actually be relevant,” I pointed out. “But we’re not. We’re training to do lots of very dangerous stuff. I’d rather have a roommate who gets into dangerous situations and knows how to survive them than one who doesn’t and can’t. You’re a badass, Avalon. I don’t want a new roommate. I want the one that I’ve got to teach me to be at least half as badass as she is.”

Her laugh sounded incredulous. “You want me to what?” She demanded flatly.

“Teach me,” I repeated. “Train me. You feel like you’ve got something to make up for just because I’m your roommate and they’re targeting you? Then teach me how to take care of myself.”

“You’re already learning that from Katarin,” Avalon pointed out, folding her arms over her stomach while regarding me with apparent disbelief that I would suggest such a thing.

“Yeah, we all are,” I agreed. “But you’re leagues ahead of the rest of us. I saw the things you were doing in there. Like I said, you’re the only reason I’m alive right now. I want you to teach me some of that. Outside of classes. I want you to work with me in the mornings, help me learn to do the kind of stuff you can do. Kick my ass, whip me into shape. I need it. I want to learn. I want to earn it.”

The dark-haired girl said nothing for a few long seconds. She just stood there, staring at me before shaking her head. “You’re gonna change your mind. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. I’ll be too rough and you’ll go crying to the nearest teacher.”

“Maybe,” I nodded rather than argue. “And then you can rub it in my face. But right now, I’m the one asking you to be rough with me, and you’re the one backing down.”

Again, she was quiet before heaving a long sigh. “I’m going to regret this. But fine, Chambers. If you’re that desperate for someone to kick your ass, I’ll wake you up in the morning. You better be ready, because I am not going to take it easy on you.”

“Good,” I replied. “Because I’m pretty sure whoever sent those bugs into the school isn’t going to either.”

With that settled, I then asked, “Do you know where the Athletic Accolades hall is? It’s supposed to be on the second floor, but uhh, this building is pretty huge.”

For a second, I wasn’t sure she was going to answer. Then the girl just shrugged and turned on her heel. “Fine, I’ll show you. Just come on.”

I trailed after Avalon, and the two of us went down the stairs and through another confusing maze of corridors. We passed several classrooms full of students, all without talking at all. She seemed more comfortable with silence, and I didn’t want to push any harder than I already had.

Finally, the girl stopped in a doorway and lifted her hand to indicate a long, curved corridor full of trophy cases. “You looking for anything in particular?”

Shaking my head, I walked past her and started turning in a circle. The cases were full of awards. There were the kind of trophies, medals, and ribbons that I was accustomed to, and there were also other kinds, mostly involving weapons. I saw a dagger with a bone handle resting on a plaque that read, ‘Sanjay Rahaln: Serpopard Slayer’ and a golden mace with the name Connor Paulson attached to it,along with what looked like the dates he attended the school. It was forty years earlier.

Everywhere I looked, there were more awards. “I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I just need to look around and…” I stopped talking abruptly, looking past the girl.

“What?” She frowned, realized I wasn’t looking at her, and turned around. “What the hell are you staring at?”

“That,” I informed her, nodding to an ancient looking black and white photograph.

Focusing on it, Avalon shook her head. “So? It’s just some old picture. Says…” She leaned closer to read the inscription. “Graduating class of 1922.”

“1922?” I echoed, surprised I could actually find my voice. “That… that long ago?”

“Yeah,” she replied, still squinting at me. “That’s what it says. Why? What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal,” I answered while reaching past her to set my finger against one person in the old photograph in particular. “Is that I happen to know that student.

“That’s my mother.”

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25 comments

  1. Well, then. I’m actually not surprised her mother was a Heretic, or at least not after that reaction Kine gave her. Family resemblance was the most likely reason for that. Of course, this raises all kinds of questions: Why did being her mother’s daughter raise concerns about accepting Flick? Why did her mother end up as a county sheriff in Wyoming? Why didn’t she tell Flick about the Heretics? What does this mean about Ammon and his father? It seems likely Ammon’s father is a Stranger, and if Flick’s mother was a Heretic, is Ammon a result of one of Eden’s Garden’s breeding programs? And also, if the Runners make a point of trying to be prepared, why did Kine call her Felicity?

    Also, good for Flick, sticking by Avalon. I doubt she’ll regret it. Mostly. She might right after Avalon starts teaching her, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “And also, if the Runners make a point of trying to be prepared, why did Kine call her Felicity?”

      He knew her mother in school and knew that the name Felicity was important to her. Remember the very start of the story when Flick mentioned that her mother loved the name Felicity, and that she stopped using it after said mother left. So it was reflex for him to call her Felicity.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah, I actually thought of that, but I wasn’t expecting him to know about her feelings about that name. Suddenly, I begin to suspect that it’s more important than I had thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. 1922… so that means… her mom was born in 1904? What age do Heretics graduate?

    I guess this pokes holes in my assumption that Sheriff Chambers is an innocent victim. I still think she’s a victim, just not innocent, based on the way the faculty is acting. Some history with Eden’s Garden? A headstrong rebel? She’s starting to remind me of Margaret LeFey. I’ve wondered how the Dresden Files would look if Thomas was evil.

    Out of curiosity, have you read the Dresden Files Cerulean? I remember someone else brought it up a few chapters ago.

    This is one mean cliffhanger. I’m guessing that we’re about to get another interlude.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I also want to quick say that I’m guessing Ammon’s dad actually isn’t a Stranger. Just one asshole renegade Heretic who had his kid kill a few Strangers at a young age to give him powers.

      Also, given that Avalon doesn’t recognize Flick’s mom, I’m guessing that if she has ever been involved with Eden’s Garden, it wasn’t in these past 11 years. Otherwise Avalon probably would have seen her at some point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, that’s nothing. Wait till you get to Asenath’s second interlude. I made a prediction there that could not possibly have been more wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Lots of good thoughts! Let’s see…

      What age do Heretics graduate? Around 21-22. 17 by November to start their first year, and it’s a four year school.

      Have I read the Dresden Files? Indeed, one of my favorite series and another strong influence for this one.

      Do Flick and Ammon have any other siblings? Good question. Should probably answer that at some point. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Now I’m gonna be really disappointed if it turns out that they don’t.

        It’s always great to meet another Dresden fan. Knowing that it’s one of the inspirations here makes slightly more interested.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. That was quite the twist at the end, with Flick’s mom turning out to have been a Heretic and an alumnus of Crossroads Academy who’s really over a century old.

    Just how a Heretic ended up as a county sheriff in the middle of nowhere is quite the interesting question, and I suspect the answer will have something to do with just why Flick’s admission was so controversial among the faculty. Plus, it’d also explain something about why Kine reacted the way he did to Flick and even though just what happened there is supposed to be secret, he dropped a hint that would give Flick one of the answers she wanted & possibly lead her to a way to find some more- maybe he & Flick’s mom were classmates and/or friends before whatever happened, or whatever transpired with her mom was controversial & divisive among the Heretic community and he was one of those who thought she was getting the short end. (Also, given the comments on the SV discussion thread about what is done with Heretics who get kicked out, I have to wonder if something like that might have happened with Flick’s mom.)

    At least for now, those answers are likely to remain the secrets of the staff, Runners, and Flick’s mysterious student file, but pretty sure that’s one more thing Flick will start looking into, trying to piece together the story of her mother’s life as a Heretic- probably starting with old yearbooks & alumni directories, and seeing what she can put together from those records, books, & so on available in the library. Though wonder if that backstory, or for that matter, those other two former students whose awards she noticed while going through the Athletic Accolades hall are going to have anything to do with what’s going on at the school now?

    Another thought that came to mind- wonder if the Dark Heretics & the Eden’s Garden crowd somehow figured out Flick’s mother’s Heretical connections, and was specifically targeted for one of their experiments, with Ammon as a result?

    It was also interesting to see Avalon’s reaction. Not quite sure if ‘insecure’ would be the right way to describe how she was feeling, but she seemed worried & rattled, both by the attack & the questions asked by the Runners implying she knows more about what’s happening then she’s letting on, as well as expecting Flick to leave her in a way that comes off as almost accusatory. Sounds like she’s gotten burned by people in her life more than a few times. It’s good that Flick chose to stand by her, which could be the beginning of their becoming friends, even if things are going to be a little bumpy at first, as the training she asked Avalon to help her with sounds like it’s going to be the coaching from hell.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, that was a surprise. I was sure her mother was some sort of Stranger. Though obviously there’s a lot more going on than we know about, since it’s probable her mother was the reason Flick almost didn’t get in – so there’s _something_ bad about her. Y’know, beyond the whole leaving Flick thing. Unless that was to keep her alive? I guess we’ll find out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening, followed by a slight exhale of breath that sounded almost surprised. “Oh, you… you’re really…””
    Me: Oh? Looks like she may resemble someone this person knows? Anyway, possible plot point here.

    ““You saw my file.” Shifting in my seat, I watched his reaction while asking, “Was there anything in it that might explain why half the people who make the decisions didn’t want to let me into the school, or why the headmistress had to break that particular tie?”
    Me: Hm. I’m curious to know the answer myself…

    “Tribald looked uncertain, a troubled expression crossing his face briefly. “I’m afraid there isn’t much that I can tell you right now, Feli—Flick. It’s not something that I’m allowed to do.” Before I could protest, he pressed on. “The one thing I can say is that you might find one of the answers that you’re looking for in the Athletic Accolades hall on the second floor of the this facility. But I wasn’t the one who directed you there.””
    Me: A classic method of CYOA. Though, it seems like it’s a sure thing that Flick has connections to this place, perhaps not all pleasant given that half the admissions group didn’t want her here.

    “Again, she was quiet before heaving a long sigh. “I’m going to regret this. But fine, Chambers. If you’re that desperate for someone to kick your ass, I’ll wake you up in the morning. You better be ready, because I am not going to take it easy on you.””
    Me: Flick is like an insistent puppy. She won’t leave you alone until you break down and accept that you’re stuck with her when she decides she likes you.

    “1922?” I echoed, surprised I could actually find my voice. “That… that long ago?”

    “Yeah,” she replied, still squinting at me. “That’s what it says. Why? What’s the big deal?”

    “The big deal,” I answered while reaching past her to set my finger against one person in the old photograph in particularly. “Is that I know that particular student.

    “That’s my mother.””
    Me: Huh, a little more direct of a connection than I was expecting, but plot point discovered. And Class of 1922, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “old photograph in particularly.”
    Thought not really wrong using the word ‘particularly’ in this fashion is an odd grammar choice. My brain did a full stop on the word because I expected “particular’, which gets used not too long later and, again, reusing words isn’t wrong it is just frowned on. I’d say just drop “in particularly” from the sentence, since Flick herself is going to point out why this student is particular to her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, it should definitely be ‘particular’ to make more sense. And you’re right, two uses of particular too close together. Fixed that paragraph by rewording the end part. Thanks!

      Like

  7. Huh, we found out why he was so surprised on the same chapter. I thought it would take a few more to reveal. I was thinking the Runner was going to be the noble in the memory and he recognised the ancestor.

    Avalon’s reaction… seems a little too forceful. No apology but straight up “Blame everything on me! Be angry at me!” I’m surprised Flick was not even annoyed at that, Avalon just assuming the worst of her and lashing out.

    So Flick’s mom was a Heretical. Somehow expected with the whole disappeared mysteriously thing. Hopefully she is still a good person and we can have an interesting reunion.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Every time I saw his last name was kine I laughed a little cause kine is an archaic plural form of cow. And I keep imagining him to look like a cow.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m interested at Flick’s development. Little things keep taking me by surprise, first in her choice of a melee weapon, amd now in her desire for combat training and to become a badass. I guess I thought she’d be the more cautious and investigative sort. Then again, she did confront an adult criminal on her own in the first chapter. I guess she has an aggressive streak.

    Like

  10. To that end, I looked up at the man. “Can I ask you a question then, Mister… err… detective… uh?”
    Chuckling, he supplied, “Runner. Runner Kine, or just Tribald is good. And what sort of question?”
    Didn’t she already hear his name?
    “My name is Runner Tribald Kine. Do you mind if I sit?”
    Or was she just not paying attention?

    Like

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